The Canteen Project at Stanhope Street Secondary School, Stoneybatter, Dublin 7, by architect Evelyn D’Arcy. Photograph: Evelyn D’Arcy.
In April 2013 the Irish Architecture Foundation launched the National Architects in Schools Initiative (NASI), a Transition Year programme that places architects and architecture graduates in schools nationwide to facilitate design workshops in collaboration with teachers. Entering the fourth year of its cycle, the NASI is making impressive strides toward becoming a fundamental catalyst for change in the built environment of Irish schools. By introducing second level students to the field of architecture, the programme is tangibly shaping spaces for learning—and crucially—bringing awareness to the value of student ownership of those spaces. Shining a spotlight on the programme’s transformative impact is a project recently completed at Stanhope Street Secondary School, Dublin 7.
After completing the National Architects in Schools Initiative in 2014, Stanhope Street told the Irish Architecture Foundation that their programme had made a formative impact on both students and teachers with its innovative content and the engaging approach of architect Evelyn D’Arcy. Stanhope’s TY coordinator remarked that he found the initiative to be, ‘a fascinating and innovative method of engaging the students and eliciting creativity from them. We as a school feel privileged to have been part of the programme.’
Shortly after the programme had finished, Principal Maedhbh Daltún was contacted by Business in the Community Ireland with the promising news that three directors from the Lauritzson Foundation wished to meet with her and talk about how Stanhope’s school environment could be improved. Being a DEIS school with limited access to funding, Ms Daltún seized upon the opportunity to advance a much-needed refurbishment of the school’s junior canteen, which had devolved into a poor state of repair since its 1970s inception. Thus began a collaboration between Stanhope Street and the Lauritzson Foundation that developed progressively from a conceptual vision to an actualised transformation this summer.
Transition Year students from Stanhope Street Secondary School on Stanhope St work on their design projects with the National Architects In Schools Initiative, 2014. Photographs: Evelyn D’Arcy.
Inspired by the success of the NASI student projects in 2014 and Evelyn’s influential leadership, Ms Daltún invited the architect to return as Principal Designer on the new canteen project. The collaboration yielded to a long but fruitful consultation process between the architect, the school community and the Lauritzson Foundation, focussing in particular on the design input of the Transition Year students who had participated in the IAF Initiative the previous term. Evelyn and her students had undertaken a series of case studies on improving the school environment, re-designing classrooms, corridors and the canteen. Throughout the refurb, the architect returned time and again to what the students envisioned for the new canteen, prioritising their ideas and suggestions as the end-users of the space. In an interview Ms Daltún reiterated that Evelyn worked fastidiously to ensure the final design was a true reflection of the students’ vision. With her people-first design strategy, Evelyn and the Stanhope community, along with fundamental support from the Lauritzson Foundation, have created something truly metamorphic—something that will positively impact the lives and learning environment of students for years to come. Ms Daltún stressed however that above all, this transformation was made possible by the Irish Architecture Foundation and its mission to bring the cultural value of architecture to the wider public through its educational and creative outreach. As an international advocate for people-first design strategies and participatory architecture, the IAF’s passionate belief that architecture transforms lives is manifested within the very foundations of this project. Stanhope Street will officially name the new canteen space in October at a formal launch, inviting all from the local community to share in the celebration. The name will appropriately and democratically be chosen by the student community.
Former junior canteen at Stanhope Street Secondary School, built c.1977. Photograph: Evelyn D’Arcy.
Construction of the new canteen space at Stanhope Street Secondary School, Stoneybatter, Dublin 7. Photograph: Evelyn D’Arcy.
School environs—Do they really matter?
The canteen project in Stanhope Street forefronts a much wider debate around the built environment of schools and the impact that good (and bad) design can have on teaching and learning paradigms—a subject that is continually reflected in the Irish Architecture Foundation’s rich programme of conferences and talks. The above image of Stanhope Street’s former canteen space is grim, or as one student described, is reminiscent of a production still from the Netflix hit series Orange is the New Black. Unfortunately, this scene is evocative of the educational environs of several schools. Standing as relics of Ireland’s educational past, these spaces are architecturally anachronistic, and as research has proven, can be prohibitive to the process of learning and socialisation. A study carried out by the University of Salford’s School of the Built Environment in 2012 confirmed that the classroom environment can affect a child’s academic progress over a year by as much as 25% . The National Behaviour Support Service in Ireland has also conducted environmental audits in schools, looking at the relationship between students and the physical and sensory environment. As a result, the organisation has implemented occupational therapy into NBSS partner schools as an assistive measure in enhancing the student’s ability to fully access and be successful in the learning environment.
Refurbished canteen at Stanhope Street Secondary School designed by architect Evelyn D’Arcy. Photograph: Evelyn D’Arcy.
Irish Architecture Foundation on a mission
Stanhope Street is a good news story, and in a climate of uncertainty we need good news stories to inspire and motivate us to make positive change from the ground up. The IAF recognises that our future lies in the hands of our youth and we owe them the best possible opportunity to flourish as individuals and as a community. This belief will form the basis of a new and exciting initiative the IAF will launch next year as part of their 2017 programme celebrating their new home at 15, Bachelors Walk. The IAF’s youth initiatives also reflect the organisation’s understanding that a sustainable future starts with education. Adopting an intuitive and informed understanding of the learning environment across the educational spectrum and intervening accordingly within those spaces can actively enhance the academic and social capacity of young individuals, building a stable platform from which they can grow. The canteen project in Stanhope Street embodies a vision of how schools can work towards this goal one chapter at a time. Admittedly, austere budgetary constraints are an obvious caveat, but with an injection of enthusiasm and determination as expressed by Maedhbh Daltún and Evelyn D’Arcy in Stanhope Street and the continued work of the Irish Architecture Foundation, enormous change can be achieved through small and steady measures.
 Peter Barrett, Yufan Zhang, Joanne Moffat and Khairy Kobbacy. ‘A holistic, multi-level analysis identifying the impact of classroom design on pupils’ learning’. ‘Building and Environment’. Vol. 59, January 2013, pp 678–689.